Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal

Last updated: 20 Feb 2017

Scientific Name

Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal


Hypnoticum somniferum Rodati ex Boiss. [Unresolved], Physalis alpini J.Jacq. [Unresolved], Physalis arborecens Thunb. [Unresolved], Physalis flexuosa L. [Unresolved], Physalis scariosa Webb & Berthel. [Unresolved], Physalis somnifera L., Physaloides somnifera Moench [Unresolved], Withania kansuensis Kuang & A. M. Lu, Withania microphysalis Suess. [1]

Vernacular Name

English Clustered winter cherry, clustered withania, Indian ginseng, Kansu withania, poisonous gooseberry,[2] winter cherry [3]
China Shui qie [2]
India Acaiyu, achkan, acupam, acurakenti, acuvacceti, acuvakantai, acuvakantam, acuvakanti, acuvakenti, acuvakkilanku, acuvam, acuvan, acuvapalam, ahan, ain-ul-ghurab, amangara gida, amangura, amikkira-gadday, ammangura, amukkanankilanku, amukkira, amukkirakkilangau, amukkiran, amukkura, amukkurak-kizhangu, amukkuram, amukran-kizhangu, angaara gadde gida, angara, angara baeru, angura gedde, anukeere, asgand, asganda, asgandh, asgandha, asgandhi, asgandha, ashvangandhi, atittikam, atitarikam, baiseyabara, gida, balada, balaja, banakwain, chirpotan, fuqqaysh, ghodasan, haya, hayagandha, hayapriya, hiremaddina baeru, hiremaddinagida, hiremaddu, hirimaddina, hirimaddina-gadday, hiregadday, kaknaje-hindi, kala, kambuka, kampupini, karappantalai, kiriccevi, kiremallinagida, kirimaddana, kudure, kushthagandha, kushthagandhini, manmatha shakthi, matarika, matarikacceti, matalinkam, matanalinkacceti, matanalinkam, matappurallamniram, mohini gida, palashaparni, pevette, pevetti, piratakam, pivari, priyakari, pulivendram, punir, punya, pushtida, pushtipavari, rajgandha, rashbhari, sarvgandha, sogade-beru, sogadeberu, tanupara, tanuka, tukhme hayat, turagagandha, turagi, turangagandha, turki, vacikantam, vacikenta, vajigandha, vajigandhika, vajikari, vajini, varada, varahakarni, varahapatri, varakakarni, valliayai, varucu, vataghni, vippuruti nayakan, vippurutinayakam, viremaddinagaddi, virpurtinayakam, virpuruti, [2] ashvagandha (Sanskrit); ashgandh (Hindi); ashwagandha, (Bengali); aasonganda (Nepal); amukkara (Sinha); amurkkuralchikzhangu (Tamil) [3]
Pakistan Kakink, rasbhari [2]
Pustu Kutilad [3]
Tibetan A sa gandhi, a-sho gandha dman-pa, a swa gandhi, [2] ba-dzi-ga-ndha [3]
Burundi Umusendabazimu [2]
Congo Itunda, urubuho [2]
Ethiopia Agol, gizawa, gizewa, hunzo [2]
Kenya Akakagh, emote, lekuru, murumbae, murumbawe, mwanzo, olesayet, olesayiet [2]
Mauritius Poc-poc [2]
Nigeria Karama-auta [2]
Rwanda Umuhire [2]
Somalia Ad-ad [2]
Japan Aswangandha [3]
Saudi Arabia Bahman [3]
Unani Asgandh valaiti [3]
Persia Bahman [3]
Southern Africa Bitterappelliefie, ganeesblaar, geneesblaarbossie, meidjieblaar, spanjoolbossie, stuipbossie, vernietbossie, vuilsiektebossie; bofepha (Sotho); ubuvuma, ubuvimba (Xhosa); umuvimba (Zulu); vimhepe (Swati); mokukwane (Setswana) [2]
Tanzania Mgeda, mtemua, shimba, muile, mukunguu, muwogolo, ol asajet, oledwarai, olesayet, tesaye, xaxardu, xoxorik’o. [2]

Geographical Distributions

Withania somnifera is a perennial shrub that native to South Africa. [4]

Botanical Description

W. somnifera is a perennial woody shrub of the family Solanaceae. [1] The stout shrub usually grows 30-150 cm in height. [5]

W. somnifera is said to resemble the tomato plant, to which it is related. The hardy stem is proximally, erect or reclining, branched, and covered in a dense pubescence. [5]

From the stem grow numerous broad leaves with the lamina ranging from 4 cm to 10 cm in length and 3 cm to 7 cm in width. Though initially covered in a relatively dense pubescence, the leaves of W. somnifera gradually become glabrous over time. The leaves are ovate with a cuneate base. Between late spring and early fall, W. somnifera produces numerous apical clusters of small, inconspicuous flowers. The flowers are pale green to white in colour and number four to ten flowers per cluster. It was originally cultivated in India for its rejuvinative properties. Asgandh literally translates to “horse smell”, which is indicative of its strong odour. [2]

The petiole is 1-2 cm long, leaf blade ovate, obovate, or oblong, measures of 2.5-12 × 2-7 cm, glabrescent adaxially except along midvein, pubescent abaxially, base cuneate, apex acute. [5]

The inflorescences are subsessile clusters of 4-6 flowers; peduncle obsolete. Pedicel ca. 5 mm. Calyx campanulate, 3-5 mm, tomentose; lobes deltate, 1-2 mm. Corolla yellowish green, narrowly campanulate, 5-8 mm, tomentose at throat; lobes ovate, spreading or recurving, 2-2.5 mm. Filaments ca. 1.8 mm; anthers yellow, ovoid, ca. 1 mm, minutely apiculate. Style exerted. [5]

Fruiting calyx becoming brown and translucent, globose or ovoid, truncate at base, 1-2.2 cm; lobes short, somewhat urceolate. The berry is shiny, scarlet, globose, measures of 5-8 mm. [5]

The seeds are drying pale brown, and reniformdiscoid. [5]


No documentation.

Chemical Constituent

W. somnifera has been reported to contain 3-alpha-tigloyloxytropane, alkaloids, anaferine, anhygrine, beta-sitosterol, choline, cuscohygrine, isopelletierine, nicotine, pseudotropine, pseudowithanine, somniferiene, somniferinine, tropine, withananine, and withanone. [6]

Plant Part Used

Roots and leaves. [7]

Traditional Use

Traditionally, W. somnifera is used as a rasayana herb, indicating that it is used for its invigorative properties, both physically and mentally. It has been indicated for use in general fatigue as well as muscle fatigue. W. somnifera is also used in Ayurveda as a remedy for sexual dysfunction, specifically in males. Additionally it has been noted for its anti-inflammatory properties. [3]

The leaves and roots are considered narcotic, while the root alone is considered deobstruent, tonic and aphrodisiac. [6]

Roots and leaves of W. somnifera are used as a therapy in alcoholism and fatigue. [7]

Preclinical Data


Antistress activity

W. somnifera has been reported to exhibit antistress activity in adult Wistar strain albino rats and cold water swimming stress test. The results showed that the dru treated animals show better stress tolerance. [8]

Aqueous extract of W. somnifera root is reported to exhibit antistress activity by the mice swimming test and anabolic activity by noting gain in body weights and levator ani muscle in rats.  A significant increase in mice swimming time and body weights of the levator ani muscle were shown by W. somnifera (p < 0.01) and (p < 0.05), respectively. [9]

In one study, the levels of corticosterone in the adrenal glands of stressed (5 h constant swimming) male albino mice treated with W. somnifera and Panax ginseng preparations were compared with non-treated stressed and normal controls.  The herbal therapies increased the corticosterone levels in all the groups. However, the physical endurance (increased survival time) of swimming mice in this study was not affected by W. somnifera administration (500 mg/kg p.o). [10]

Pharmacodynamic activity

Withanolides obtained from W. somnifera is an active ingredient that posses a great pharmacodynamic activity. [11]

Analgesic activity

W. somnifera root extract has been demonstrated analgesic activity in mice. Repeated administration of W. somnifera (100 mg/kg) for 9 days attenuated the development of tolerance to the analgesic effect of morphine (10 mg/kg). W. somnifera (100 mg/kg) also suppressed morphine-withdrawal jumps, a sign of development of dependence to opiate as assessed by naloxone (2 mg/kg) precipitation withdrawal on day 10 of testing. [12]

Antitumour activity

Methanolic extract of W. somnifera has been studied to exhibit anticancer activity. Administration fo 75% methanolic extract of W. somnifera was found to significantly increase the total WBC count in normal Balb/c mice and reduce the leucopenia induced by sublethal dose of gamma radiation. Treatment with W. somnifera was found to increase the bone marrow cellularity significantly, the percentage increase being 146.3. Treatment with W. somnifera had normalised the ratio of normochromatic erythrocytes and polychromatic erythrocytes in mice after the radiation exposure. Major activity of W. somnifera seemed to be in the stimulation of stem cell proliferation. [13]

Withaferin A obtained from W. somnifera has been reported to exhibit antitumour and radiosensitizing effects, in vivo. Result obtained show that the drug inhibited tumour growth and increased survival, which was dependent on the withaferin A dose per fraction rather than the total dose. [14]

Withaferin A obtained from the root of W. somnifera demonstrated to exhibit radiosensitizer effect by reducing survival of V79 cells in a dose-dependent manner. [15]

W. somnifera root extract administration (20 mg/dose/animal given intraperitoneal) was found to inhibit 20-methylcholanthrene induced sarcoma development in mice and increase the life span of tumor bearing animals. [16]

Another animal study reported that administration of W. somnifera powdered root extract enhanced the levels of Interferon gamma (IFN-γ), Interleukin-2 (IL-2) and granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF) in mice. [17]

Anti-inflammatory activity

W. somnifera has been reported to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity in adjuvant arthritic rat. Results obtained show that after administration of W. somnifera extract, the number of body weight was increased and the swelling of the paw during the secodnary lesions was reduced. [18]

Antioxidant activity

Glycowithanolides obtained from W. somnifera is a potent antioxidant, inhibiting lipid peroxidation and increasing enzymes such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase (CAT) and glutathione peroxidase (GPX). [19][20]

The aqueous extract of W. somnifera root was evaluated for its effect on lipid peroxidation in stress-induced animals.  Result obtained show that oral administration of W. somnifera (100 mg/kg) prevented the rise in LPO in rabbits and mice. [21]

W. somnifera root extract (1.4 g/kg body weight) administrated in laboratory animals may stimulate thyroid function by enhancing serum T4 concentration.The W. somnifera plant extract also showed an increase in hepatic glucose-6-phosphatase (G-6-Pase) activity and antiperoxidative effects, as indicated either by a decrease in hepatic lipid peroxidation and/or by an increase in the activity of antioxidant enzyme(s). [22]


No documentation.

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

Hypoglycemic activity

A recent human study of 6 individuals with mild NIDDM and six mild hypercholesterolemic subjects were treated with the powder of roots of W. somnifera for 30 days. A decrease in blood glucose was comparable to that of an oral hypoglycemic drug. Significant increase in urine sodium, urine volume, significant decrease in serum cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL and VLDL cholesterol were observed indicating that root of W. somnifera is a potential source of hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic agents. [23]


No documentation.

Poisonous Management

No documentation.

Line drawing

No documentation.


  1. The Plant List. Ver1.1. Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal. [homepage on the Internet]. c2013 [updated 2012 Mar 26; cited 2017 Feb 20]. Available from: http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-2465599.
  2. Quattrocchi U. CRC world dictionary of medicinal and poisonous plants: Common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology. Volume V R-Z. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2012; p. 783-784.
  3. Kapoor LD. Handbook of Ayurvedic medicinal plants: Herbal reference library. Volume 2. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2000; p. 337-338.
  4. African Plant Database. Withania somnifera (L.) Dunal. [homepage on the Internet]. c2012 [cited 2017 Feb 20]. Available from: http://www.ville-ge.ch/musinfo/bd/cjb/africa/details.php?langue=an&id=120290.
  5. Flora of China. Withania somnifera (Linnaeus) Dunal. [homepage on the Internet]. No date [cited 2017 Feb 20]. Available from: http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=2&taxon_id=200020616.
  6. Tyler VM, Premila MS. Ayurvedic herbs: A clinical guide to the healing plants of traditional Indian medicine. Binghamton, New York: Routledge; 2012.
  7. Nadkarni AK. Indian material medica. Volume 1. Mumbai: Popular Prakashan; 1982.
  8. Archana R, Namasivayam A. Antistressor effect of Withania somnifera. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999;64(1):91-93.
  9. Grandhi A, Mujumdar AM, Patwardhan B. A comparative pharmacological investigation of Ashwagandha and Ginseng. J Ethnopharamcol. 1994;44(3):131-135.
  10. Singh A, Saxena E, Bhutani KK. Adrenocorticosterone alterations in male, albino mice treated with Trichopus zeylanicus, Withania somnifera and Panax ginseng preparation. Phytother Res. 2000;14(2):122-125.
  11. Elsakka M, Grigorescu E, Stanescu U, Dorneanu V. New data referring to chemistry of Withania somnifera species. Rev Med Chir Soc Med Nat Iasi.1990;94(2):385-387.
  12. Kulkarni SK, Ninan I. Inhibition of morphine tolerance and dependence by Withania somnifera in mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 1997;57(3):213-217.
  13. Kuttan G. Use of Withania somnifera Dunal as an adjuvant during radiation therapy. Indian J Exp Biol. 1996;34(9):854-856.
  14. Sharada AC, Solomon FE, Devi PU, Udupa N, Srinivasan KK. Antitumor and radiosensitizing effects of withaferin A on mouse Ehrlich ascites carcinoma in vivo. Acta Oncol. 1996;35(1):95-100.
  15. Devi PU, Akagi K, Ostapenko V, Tanaka Y, Sugahara T. Withaferin A: A new radiosensitizer from the Indian medicinal plant Withania somnifera. Int J Radiat Biol. 1996;69(2):193-197.
  16. Davis L, Kuttan G. Effect of Withania somnifera on 20-methylcholanthrene induced fibrosarcoma. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2000;19(2):165-167.
  17. Davis L, Kuttan G. Effect of Withania somnifera on cytokine production in normal and cyclophosphamide treated mice. Immunopharmacol Immunotoxicol. 1999;21(4):695-703.
  18. Begum VH, Sadique J. Long term effect of herbal drug Withania somnifera on adjuvant induced arthritis in rats. Indian J Exp Biol. 1988;26(11):877-882.
  19. Bhattacharya SK, Satyan KS, Ghosal S. Antioxidant activity of glycowithanolides from Withania somnifera. Indian J Exp Biol. 1997;35(5):236-239.
  20. Bhattacharya A, Ghosal S, Bhattacharya SK. Anti-oxidant effect of Withania somnifera glycowithanolides in chronic footshock stress-induced pertubations of oxidative free radical scavenging enzymes and lipid peroxidation in rat frontal cortex and striatum. J Ethopharmacol. 2001;74(1):1-6.
  21. Dhuley JN. Effect of ashwagandha on lipid peroxidation in stress-induced animals. J Ethnopharmacol. 1998;60(2):173-178.
  22. Panda S, Kar A. Withania somnifera and Bauhinia purpurea in the egulation of circulating thyroid hormone concentrations in female mice. J Ethnopharmacol. 1999;67(2):233-239.
  23. Andallu B, Radhika B. Hypoglycemic, diuretic and hypocholesterolemic effect of winter cherry (Withania somnifera, Dunal) root. Indian J Exp Biol. 2000;38(6):607-609.